US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), dubbed the world’s most expensive ship with a price tag of over $13 billion, departed Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) after 15 months of repairs.
The ship started trials after undergoing rectification work on a number of first-of-class issues identified during the ship’s previous underway.
“I am proud of the crew’s efforts to get USS Gerald R. Ford back out to sea,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “The Navy has diligently tackled issues associated with this first-in-class ship and will continue to do so. All are eager to demonstrate Ford’s capacity to deliver combat power. There is more work to do, but this is a great milestone.”
Ford is starting trials days after a House Armed Services Committee subpanel on readiness hearing during which the aircraft carrier caused friction between Congress and the navy.
During the hearing, Secretary Spencer attacked Congress members saying they “continually disparage the Ford as a program.”
This was in response to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who called the ship “a nuclear-powered floating berthing barge.”
At the same hearing, Vice Adm. Tom Moore acknowledged that the ship might not start its first deployment before 2024, due to issues with the many new technologies incorporated into the ship.
As previously outlined by the director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), the issues include poor or unknown reliability of the newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar. All these systems are critical for flight operations and DOT&E noted they could affect the ability of CVN 78 to generate sorties, make the ship more vulnerable to attack, or create limitations during routine operations.
Below is a video of the carrier getting underway for trials:
Prior to getting underway on October 25, CVN 78 conducted a multi-day, pier-side “Fast Cruise,” where the crew worked through simulated at-sea operating scenarios. Gerald R. Ford then departed NNS and headed into the Atlantic Ocean for sea trials, putting into practice lessons learned from the Fast Cruise and starting a critical phase of underway testing.
While at sea off the Virginia coast, the crew, in cooperation with NNS engineers and shipyard employees, will run through a sequence of evolutions to test and validate systems maintained or modified during the extended maintenance period, known as a Post Shakedown Availability (PSA).
The PSA included combat systems installations, throttle control system improvements, propulsion train component repairs, and corrections to discrepancies identified during prior testing, and completion of 304 berthing spaces. The HII-NNS team also completed construction of four advanced weapon elevators (AWE), upgraded advanced arresting gear (AAG) water twisters, and fully outfitted all galley spaces.
Sea trials are the culminating event prior CVN 78’s ship returning to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The ship will then enter a postdelivery test and trials period to certify fuel systems, conduct aircraft compatibility testing, certify the flight deck, and test the combat systems installed aboard the ship.